Chris Copeland had no problem navigating the long road to finally reach the NBA. If that's the sort of path it takes to get back there, so be it.
Copeland was always an anomaly among former Colorado basketball stars, going undrafted out of CU in 2006 yet nonetheless making his way to the NBA in 2012 with a delayed splash. The former Buffaloes forward finished sixth in the 2012-13 NBA Rookie of the Year voting, a full seven years after he played his final game at the Coors Events Center.
Copeland returned to his old haunt this past week in preparation for his first appearance with Team Colorado, the squad of former CU basketball stars again taking aim at the $2 million jackpot offered in The Basketball Tournament after falling just short in the championship game a year ago.
Copeland, who logged four seasons in the NBA but spent this past year in Turkey, is perhaps the most intriguing newcomer on a team that brings back much of its core.
"You always want to play as long as you can, but at the end of the day basketball is basketball," Copeland said. "This is the fun part for me. Obviously we want to win the tournament, the idea of playing with Michel (Morandais) and 'Nique (Dominique Coleman) and bringing everyone together, this is the stuff you talk about in college. What would it be like if Richard Roby and Michel were on the same team? It's exciting."
After toiling in the D-League and at various spots around Europe, Copeland appeared in 171 games over four seasons with New York, Indiana, and Milwaukee, averaging a career-best 8.7 points during his breakout 2012-13 rookie season with the Knicks. He twice appeared in the playoffs, with the Knicks in 2013 and the Pacers in 2014, and made unfortunate headlines in April 2015 when he was stabbed outside a New York nightclub, suffering a fractured rib in an incident in which the leg of Atlanta's Thabo Sefolosha also was broken in an altercation with police.
Copeland played in 24 games with Milwaukee the following season and spent part of the 2016 training camp with New Orleans before heading to Turkey.
Given Copeland's solid NBA and overseas experience (Copeland was the Belgian League MVP in 2012), Team Colorado coach Dwight Thorne (a freshman the year after Copeland graduated from CU) believes the veteran could provide a stabilizing force for a team that played spectacularly at The Basketball Tournament last year until the second half of the finale, when a big lead and the team's monetary payoff disappeared.
"He brings scoring, and he brings inside girth," Thorne said. "He brings experience that not everybody has. As you get deeper in these rounds, the games get more and more big time. If you haven't been in that type of atmosphere or you haven't been in that kind of pressure, it can affect you in ways you don't know. So with him playing at the highest level in the NBA, the highest level in Europe, the moment won't be too big for him. He can help our guys that haven't played in those big moments."
Copeland attended the early-round Team Colorado games in California last year and will likely play a big role in any possible repeat run to the title game for the CU alums. Yet even with the immediate future of his basketball career still somewhat uncertain, Copeland stresses that his primary goal over the coming weeks simply is to enjoy competing alongside his old friends.
"Any time you play in the summertime you're going to have eyes on you, but I'm not using it as that," Copeland said. "It's more about being with these guys than getting exposure. I just want to help the guys win."